Confessions of a reality-based conservative

    You’ve probably never heard of Bruce Bartlett, but by the end of this post you’ll know plenty. A prominent conservative who worked for Ronald Reagan and a succession of conservative think tanks, he’s now being shunned by his right-wing brethren because he has had the audacity to challenge their stultifying groupthink. His tale is a stunning condemnation of life inside the GOP’s closed loop.

    As Bartlett writes this week, “I’m at ground zero in the saga of Republicans closing their eyes to any facts or evidence that conflict with their dogma….I don’t think they understand that my motives were to help them avoid the permanent decline that now seems inevitable.”

    I recommend his entire piece in American Conservative magazine, a publication that occasionally challenges GOP orthodoxy, if only because Bartlett’s recent experiences vividly illustrate, in his words, “how closed the right-wing mind (has) become.” He rightly says that he’s a victim “of what has been called ‘epistemic closure’ among conservatives – living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.”

    All this from a guy who first embraced conservatism and Barry Goldwater half a century ago; who worked in Washington with the original Reagan economic supply-siders, including Jude Wanniski and Jack Kemp; who worked for the conservative Heritage Foundation; who served Reagan as a White House domestic policy aide; who served the senior George Bush in the Treasury Department; who worked for two more think tanks, the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington and the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas; who supported George W. Bush in 2000, and who subsequently broke bread with personal friends on the Bush economic team.

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    Yet today, “I (have) lost every friend I had on the right. Some have been known to pass me in silence at the supermarket or even to cross the street when they see me coming. People who were as close to me as brothers and sisters have disowned me.” Moreover, he discovered back in 2006 that he “was banned from Fox News. My publicist was told that orders had come from on high….Other dissident conservatives, such as David Frum and Andrew Sullivan, have told me that they are banned from Fox as well. More epistemic closure.”

    Why has this happened to such a well-credentialed conservative? Because he insisted on using his mind, instead of closing it.

    When Bartlett noticed, circa 2003, that George W. Bush was busting the budget with his wild spending, he subsequently wrote a book about how Bush was betraying conservative principles. (His employer, the Dallas think tank, was displeased. He was fired.) He wrote another book, about how Republicans need to reach out to minorities, about how the GOP’s “anti-immigrant attitude” was alienating Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing constituency. And, more recently, he has reluctantly concluded that supply-side economics can’t cure the recession; indeed, “the Republican idea that tax cuts for the rich will save us becomes more ridiculous by the day.” In his words, “facts were facts and there was no denying my conclusion.”

    But facts and fresh thinking are not welcome inside the bubble. Hence his banishment. Hence his freedom to speak the truth. Let’s give him three paragraphs:

    “So here we are, post-election 2012. All the stupidity and closed-mindedness that right-wingers have displayed over the last 10 years has come back to haunt them. It is now widely understood that the nation may be center-left after all, not center-right as conservatives thought. Overwhelming losses by Republicans to all the nation’s nonwhite voters have created a Democratic coalition that will govern the nation for the foreseeable future….

    “At least a few conservatives now recognize that Republicans suffer for epistemic closure. They were genuinely shocked at Romney’s loss because they ignored every poll not produced by a right-wing pollster such as Rasmussen, or approved by right-wing pundits such as the perpetually wrong Dick Morris. Living in the Fox News cocoon, most Republicans had no clue that they were losing or that their ideas were both stupid and politically unpopular.

    “I am disinclined to think that Republicans are yet ready for a serious questioning of their philosophy or strategy. They comfort themselves with the fact that they held the House (due to gerrymandering) and think that just improving their get-out-the-vote system and throwing a few bones to the Latino community will fix their problem. There appears to be no recognition that their defects are far, far deeper and will require serious introspection and rethinking of how Republicans can win going forward.”

    Introspection? Inside the closed loop? No way. Just the other day, in Washington, two right-wing talk radio jocks insisted that President Obama won re-election only because he benefited from massive nationwide voter fraud (“Across the country, we’re hearing so many stories”) – and their guest, right-wing Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, chimed in: “You’re preaching to the choir. I’m with you completely.”

    And cue the choir’s attacks on Bruce Bartlett. In 3, 2, 1…


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1



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